"BACK THEN, it was one or the other in the movies -- either you played the long-suffering wife or you were the mischief-maker," says former starlet Anne Francis. "Usually, the 'naughty girl' roles gave you more to play with."
Francis, looking cool and crisp in a khaki dress on a wilting Washington afternoon, says with a smile that she often chose the 'naughty girl' roles, but insists she avoided typecasting. Francis played a range of characters, from the prim and pristine "Lydia Bailey" to George Raft's alcoholic mistress in "Rogue Cop."
Beginning her career as a child model, Francis (who turned 52 yesterday) has worked in radio, television, theater and movies; now she has written her first book, a memoir called "Voices From Home: An Inner Journey," and she gently steers the dialogue back to the book each time it veers toward her movie days.
"I haven't written a Hollywood book," Francis says, scrunching up her face in distaste. "I wouldn't write one of those. Wouldn't be able to -- I wasn't a Hollywood person." Francis is casual and soft-spoken, and she plays down her Hollywood days, rejecting as too phony a pose suggested by the photographer.
"I'm not an 'A-list social-type person,' " Francis says. "I really don't think too much about being an actress until I'm acting, and then, of course, I love it."
Francis becomes rather vague when pressed for specifics about her book, but says it is not "about hidden skeletons, social calendars and name-revealing dalliances. It is about our essence of being, the inexplicable reality of mysticism, psychic phenomena and the inner workings of the mind and spirit."
Francis said she first became aware of the mind's powers when she had a "near-death experience" at age 4. "I nearly drowned . . . playing in the water and I overreached for a ball. Suddenly I was immersed in water and surrounded by glorious translucent green light, colors beyond human imagination came toward me. I was close to going to the other side.
"Then I was pulled out of the water and I started crying. It was really my anger at being taken away from all that beauty." Now, she says, she falls back on those thoughts "whenever I get myself really messed up. You have a certain part of yourself that anchors you, and I want to encourage others to feel that."
At 6, Francis, with her blond curls and trademark beauty mark, was spotted at Macy's by a John Roberts Powers modeling agent. "They had me modeling bathing suits in winter at Grant's Tomb," Francis remembers. Modeling led to a radio career on children's shows like "Coast to Coast on a Bus" and "Let's Pretend."
"I was on some radio soap operas, too," she says. "The titles were terrific: 'When a Girl Marries' and 'Phoebe Faces Life.' Francis then moved on to the early days of live TV, working in shows like "Playhouse 90" and "Lights Out."
Her first leading role (with Anne Jackson and Rita Moreno) was in "So Young, So Bad," in which she played a prostitute with a baby at a girl's reform school. "I think they're still showing it -- after midnight," Francis says.
Her name is even mentioned in the litany of sci-fi stars in the opening song of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," commemorating her ingenue role in the science-fiction classic "Forbidden Planet." Francis also appeared in "The Blackboard Jungle" and "Bad Day at Black Rock." "I was the naughty girl who tried to deliver Spencer Tracy to the evil Bob Ryan," she says.
Francis, who had her own TV series, "Honey West" (1965), which she describes as "a tongue-in-cheek, female James Bond," still shows up on TV -- on "Dallas" and "Fantasy Island" -- and does an occasional movie. In her most recent, she played Watergate figure Charles Colson's wife opposite Dean Jones in 1978's "Born Again," which was filmed on location in Washington.
These days, Francis lives in Santa Barbara and spends time with her daughters, Maggie, 13, whom she adopted as a single parent, and Jane, 29. She considers scripts but says she spends most of her time "speaking at holistic centers on upbeat topics. Or writing poetry and throwing ideas into a big manila envelope."